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Wisconsin Judge Blocks School District’s Gender-Affirming Pronoun Policy

“Horrific.… This is compelled speech and forced outing of trans youth,” a transgender activist said.

A judge in Wisconsin has blocked a school district’s policy that allowed staff to use transgender students’ names and pronouns without getting parental permission.

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Maxwell sided with parents who sued Kettle Moraine School District in November 2021 after staff at Kettle Moraine Middle School used their child’s chosen name and pronouns without their consent. The parents did not support their child’s gender transition.

“Horrific…This is compelled speech and forced outing of trans youth,” transgender activist Erin Reed said on social media in response to the ruling.

The parents were represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), conservative legal groups that have actively pursued lawsuits over pronoun policies across the country. WILL has a history of opposing gender-affirming policies and has actively lobbied state lawmakers to support anti-trans “parental bill of rights” legislation. WILL has also drafted a model policy for school boards in the state that would prohibit staff from using students’ chosen names and pronouns without written permission from their guardian.

ADF is listed as a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. ADF has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad, defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad, contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia, and claimed that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society.

Other judges across the country have ruled differently on school districts’ gender-affirming name and pronoun policies for trans students. In December, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by parents in Massachusetts who argued that their rights were violated when their children were allowed to use different names and pronouns at school without them knowing. In August, a federal judge dismissed a similar lawsuit challenging a school policy in Maryland.

“Addressing a person using their preferred name and pronouns simply accords the person the basic level of respect expected in a civil society generally, and, more specifically, in Massachusetts public schools where discrimination on the basis of gender identity is not permitted,” U.S. District Judge Mark G. Mastroianni said in his ruling in the Massachusetts case.

Research conducted by the Trevor Project shows that only about half of transgender and nonbinary young people find their school to be gender-affirming, but those who do report lower rates of attempting suicide. The study also found that affirming gender identity among transgender and nonbinary young people is consistently associated with lower rates of attempting suicide.

“At school, safety includes using the name a person wants to be called. Because that’s respectful, and makes a person feel safe,” Brian Juchems, a co-executive director of GSAFE Wisconsin, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Other studies have similarly found that school staff affirming transgender students is a form of suicide prevention. A 2018 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that transgender students who were allowed to use their chosen name in schools reported 71 percent fewer symptoms of depression and a 65 percent decrease in suicide attempts compared to their peers who were not.

“As a trans person myself, I know that it was really important for people to see me the way that I always had seen myself as a child,” Cameron Overton, the executive pastor at Zao MKE Church in Milwaukee, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The majority of students are coming out to friends, coming out to safe teachers, and so I think this is the wrong thing.”

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